WASHINGTON — A national study suggests at least 24 percent of overseas military who voted in the 2004 presidential election did not have their ballots counted.

The National Defense Committee’s Military Voting Rights Project, which conducted the survey of local elections offices, called those results “unacceptable.”

It blamed the transient nature of troops in a battle zone, problems with the Military Postal Service Agency, missed mailing deadlines by state elections officials and litigation by Ralph Nader, which delayed printing of ballots in some states as major reason for the lost votes.

A Defense Department spokeswoman said the DOD is waiting for the results of official surveys before officials decide whether to make any changes.

Nader campaign manager Theresa Amato called blaming the third-party candidate for overseas voting problems “ridiculous.”

“That’s misplaced and misdirected blame,” she said. “They are blaming one of the symptoms of an unworkable process. We have a system where it’s not easy to register as a national candidate.”

The National Defense Committee is a pro-military organization that advocates the election of more veterans to Congress, according to its Web site.

Surveyors received statistics from 761 local election offices — about 10 percent of the total nationwide — which processed 131,772 requests for ballots from troops serving overseas.

Of those, about 4 percent were rejected outright because of lateness or errors in absentee ballot requests, and another 25 percent of those ballots weren’t returned, arrived too late to be counted or contained errors than invalidated the vote.

The new federal write-in absentee ballots provided a measure of relief, recapturing about 5,300 troops whose votes otherwise would not have been counted. But the report said that in the end, more than 32,000 servicemembers were still disenfranchised.

After the 2000 presidential election, the Government Accountability Office estimated that more than 29 percent of overseas military did not have a chance to cast their votes. The Federal Voting Assistance Project is scheduled to release a more comprehensive study of the 2004 election by the end of the year.

Joan Hills, co-chair of Republicans Abroad, which mobilizes GOP voters overseas, said she believes military officials did a better job than in 2000 and the best they could do in places like Iraq.

“We know of one battalion that kept moving and couldn’t receive some ballots, and we know of one major incident where a truck with ballots for a whole battalion was overturned in an ambush,” she said. “Those are war incidents.

“I think this time there was a bigger effort to get the word out about [support programs], and I think generally they did a good job.”

Their political counterparts, Democrats Abroad, offered a more critical assessment, saying in a statement they are “gravely concerned” about the balloting problems.

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